In my previous post on website content strategy (and yes, you do need one), I talked about how to do keyword research to enable you to then create content your prospective customers are actively looking for.
Effectively you’re developing a wide range of bait through which you attract your marketplace, and hook them into your website.
But how do you ensure your content is optimized for the keywords you focus on, so you get search engine rankings for your bait, and attract click-throughs from potential customers?
I’ve been involved in search engine optimization for over a decade, have numerous #1, top three and first page listings for a wide range of keywords, including #1 placements for keywords with millions of competing results, and have done for years (including seeing off numerous Google algorithm onslaughts that have devastated other sites and businesses) … so know a thing or two about what it takes to rank, and rank well, over extended periods.
I’m not talking about gimmicks, or the latest shady practice that might work now but will get you stung long-term … but creating the type of site that delivers exactly the type of value Google wants to deliver to its users, and the type of site they can’t help but rank well because it’s best of breed and not doing so would be a disservice to their users.
Essentially it’s about using quality content, optimized well, to improve the search engine ranking of your site as a whole … and it’s one of the best investments in your business you can make.
Imagine if you had over a hundred separate content items on your site, each ranked for different keywords within your particular niche … it’s a powerful insurance policy against search engine algorithm shifts, because even if your ranking on some of them drop or fluctuate from time to time, the likelihood is that taken as a whole you’ll continue to attract traffic through the other content on your site, optimized for their own keywords.
And, by having content on other sites too that link to your own site, you continue to attract and drive traffic that way too.
So let’s dive straight into content optimization, and exactly how to use content to improve search engine ranking.
Obviously I can’t cover everything in a single blog post, but I’ll summarize seven of the most important elements for effective content optimization, and then go into further depth on each of them in future posts.
Yes, you’ve heard it before, but there’s a reason for that – it works! If your content is about something (i.e. your keyword), it stands to reason you’re going to see it in the title for that content.
So ensure your keyword appears in your title, and preferably (but not essentially, as some may suggest) towards the start of the title to signify its importance – there are numerous flags that, when taken in unison, signify to search engines what a particular piece of content is about, so don’t get too hung up about any one of them.
It’s a case of gently indicating to the search engines what your content is about, not taking them by the scruff of the neck and shaking them until they understand – most folks don’t take kindly to the latter, search engines are no exception, and will treat you accordingly afterwards.
Another obvious one, but again vitally important. Your keyword needs to appear at least once within the content itself.
Preferably, it should appear towards the beginning – say in the first paragraph, underlining what the content is focused on – and then somewhere else in the content too.
The key is to keep it natural – your content should naturally be about the keyword anyway, in which case the keyword will appear at natural points within the content. So don’t get too formulaic about keyword placement or keyword density – primarily, create the content for the reader, not the search engines, and just keep half an eye on the keywords you’re using without in any way trying to cram them in inappropriately.
Do that, and the keywords tend to sort themselves out anyway, in exactly the manner that will be most effective for you in the search engines.
Which leads nicely on to the next section …
Semantic Variations and Natural Language Usage
Many keywords you find and want to focus on won’t lend themselves to natural incorporation in a sentence.
In that case, just adjust them a little so they do … stick a keyword in a sentence in an artificial way, and Google will sniff it out a mile away, will know immediately you’re creating content for them rather than for their users, and your site will be treated with the disrespect it deserves (and you won’t get visitors sticking around or sharing your content either – it’s a clear lose-lose, so stay away).
For example, if you found the keyword internet marketing small business, you’re going to have difficulty making that sound ‘normal’ in a sentence. It’s fine to make it natural (scratch that – you should make it natural), and use phrases like internet marketing for small business, internet marketing for your small business, and so on.
And use keywords and phrases related to your main keyword too, rather than just dogmatically sticking to the exact phrase in question. What you’re aiming for, as previously stated, is for the content to be naturally about the keyword in question, which will naturally (that word again, and for good reason!) use variations of the keyword in question.
So, as you may have noticed, one of the keywords focused on in this piece of content is content optimization – so, and in a very natural way, I’ve also used phrases such as the following, and not worried about a specific formula in terms of keyword placement, density, etc.:
- … content is optimized for …
- … quality content, optimized well …
A key to well-ranked content, and good ranking for your site as a whole, is to make all your content relevant to a particular niche.
This gives Google a good understanding as to what your site is about as a whole, and will give it a certain level of authority within its niche.
Just as a quick example, content about dogs on a site that has content about all manner of topics won’t rank as well as the same content on a site that has content about different animals, which in turn won’t rank as well as the same content on a site that’s purely focused on dogs.
Even better if it’s a site on a specific breed of dog … the tighter the niche and the more specialist your site is, the more authority your site will tend to gain, and the better it will rank, simply because of the lower competition levels out there.
This goes too for content that links back to your site – links from generic sites about everything will be a lot less powerful than a link back to your site from a credible site within the same or related niche. The increased authority of their site transfers to yours.
Internal linking is where you’re linking to content on your site from other pages on the same site. When you link using keywords that exactly match or semantically relate to the keyword(s) you are focusing on in the content you’re linking to, it helps Google and other SEs further understand what that content is about. It’s another signal, another flag that helps your ranking.
Take another look at the very top of this post, and you’ll notice I’ve done exactly this, providing an internal link to my previous post with the keyword I want Google to understand that content is about:
Again, it’s important to keep it natural, and if you are linking to the same piece of content multiple times, use variations of the keyword and throw some non-keyword focused links in there too (e.g. “my previous post“) – the last thing you want to do is appear as if you’re trying to game the search engines.
Instead, and in a very natural way, you’re just helping them understand what the content on your site is about, while maintaining the priority of delivering a high level of value to your visitors.
Internal linking can go a long way in terms of improving your search engine ranking for specific pieces of content, but external linking helps indicate that your site has authority in the wider web as a whole.
External linking is where other sites are linking to pages on your own site.
The key is to ensure, as always, that it all remains natural – and key to this is building up the links to your site from a wide variety of different sources.
This variety of inbound links – or backlinks – is incredibly important. If all your links come from one source (e.g. a specific type of site) or from a particular type of marketing (e.g. blog comment spam), it looks manipulative in terms of SEO, immediately flags your site as questionable at the very least, and your site will likely be penalized as a consequence.
Don’t join dodgy linking schemes or pay for links from other sites. Don’t leave spammy blog comments. Don’t give much credence to the latest trick that can get your site ranked at the top within 48 hours – even if it works, it won’t last. The only thing that works long-term is creating value for your visitor within your specific niche, and working with the search engines to help them (gently, gently) understand what your site and the pages on it are all about. Period.
Your focus has to be on contributing value to the web, through which you happen to get a link (or sometimes several) … rather than desperately trying to get a link and doing the bare minimum required to get one.
Some things you can do include contributing articles or guest posts to other sites (see our guest post plugin for WordPress blogs), submitting helpful videos to sites like YouTube, contributing to blogs and forums through informative, considered comments and responses, and building up your social media presence.
Above all, create the best content you possibly can as part of your long-term content strategy, so that people start linking to you entirely naturally, including through various social media accounts … you want the type of content that when people see it, they are naturally inspired to share with their own community because you offer so much value.
Watch Your Bounce Rate
As the adage goes, what you measure, improves. And that goes for bounce rate too, so, using Google Analytics – or whatever analytics software you use – keep an eye on your bounce rate with the aim to improve it over time.
When people find your content, you want them to stick around your site, and not bounce straight off again heading somewhere else.
Think about it … if someone clicks through to your site from Google, and then goes straight back to look for a different result, it immediately signifies that the visitor (Google’s user) did not get what they were looking for. Which means that maybe Google hasn’t ranked your site as well as it could have (and you can guess what happens to your ranking as a result).
On the other hand, if Google sees searchers clicking through and sticking around, obviously that’s a positive result for your site, for which you will be rewarded positively in terms of some improvement to your search engine ranking.
Use all the above to optimize each new piece of content on your site and you’ll find your search engine rankings steadily improve over time.
Not just that, but you’ll find you maintain those rankings for the long-term too – you’ll be exactly the type of site Google are aiming to provide for their users, rather than the type of site that has got a high ranking artificially and that each algorithm update aims to bust.
Quality content, optimized well, pays handsome dividends long-term.